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Tuesday, 13 August, 2002, 21:30 GMT 22:30 UK
Burma to launch e-passport
Aung San Suu Kyi
Opponents fear the technology could track activists such as Aung San Suu Kyi
The authorities in Burma have announced that an electronic passport system is to be launched this week in Rangoon.

It involves the embedding of a microchip in the passport which contains information about the holder, including photographs and fingerprints.

The passports are to be checked at automatic gates installed in the departure terminal at Rangoon international airport.

UN envoy Razali Ismail
Razali: Regional hopes for e-passports
The e-passports use technology developed by a Malaysian-based company, Iris Corporation, which is partly owned by the UN envoy to Burma, Razali Ismail.

Mr Razali said that 5,000 e-passports would be issued this week to Burmese diplomats, officials and selected members of the business community as part of a pilot programme.

The company hopes that the passport will eventually be introduced in all East Asian nations.

Concerned

But some groups are said to be worried that the information might be misused by the Burmese military government.


I've never spoken about this to leaders in government

Razali Ismail
Mr Ismail dismissed such fears as unfounded, saying Burma's leaders had changed.

"If you're talking about 10 years ago that may be valid," he told the BBC.

"Must you think of things in such sinister terms? Anyway, it's only for those people who want to travel outside. In most cases those will be government people."

Conflict of interest

Mr Razali also rejected suggestions that his position as UN envoy may have helped Iris seal its deal with the Burmese government.

"There is no conflict of interest," he said. "I've never spoken about this to leaders in government."

Iris' passport concept and interests in Burma predated Mr Razali's assignment as special envoy, he added.

"I have never had to promote it at in any sense at all. I don't know how any watchdogs of right and wrong should pass any judgement on this."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Phil Mercer
"There's an extensive dissident community which is campaigning for Burma's return to democracy"
UN envoy to Burma Razali Ismail
"There is no conflict of interest"

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08 Aug 02 | Asia-Pacific
21 Jul 02 | Asia-Pacific
22 Jun 02 | Asia-Pacific
13 Jun 02 | Asia-Pacific
17 May 02 | Asia-Pacific
06 May 02 | Asia-Pacific
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